One year into the pandemic, MSHA has released new guidance to help miners and operators identify the risks of being exposed to COVID-19 at work and to help them determine appropriate control measures to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.   During a stakeholder call on March 3, 2021, Jeannette Galanis, MSHA’s new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, acknowledged that many mine operators already have rules addressing COVID-19 mitigation.   It was made clear on the call that this guidance was advisory in nature.  However, agency representatives said they were still considering the need for an Emergency Temporary Standard addressing COVID-19 mitigation.

The guidance reiterates much of the guidance already referenced on the CDC website.  The MSHA guidance suggests an effective COVID-19 prevention plan should include the following:

  1. Identifying a mine coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the operator’s behalf;
  2. Identifying where and how miners might be exposed to COVID-19 at work;
  3. Identifying measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19;
  4. Considering protections for miners at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices;
  5. Educating and training miners on COVID-19 policies and procedures;
  6. Instructing miners who are infected or potentially infected to stay home or isolate or quarantine;
  7. Minimizing negative impacts of quarantine and isolation of miners;
  8. Isolating miners who show symptoms at work;
  9. Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection when people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the workplace;
  10. Providing guidance on screening and testing;
  11. Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths that are work-related;
  12. Implementing protections from retaliation and an anonymous process for miners to voice COVID-19 related hazards.
  13. To the extent possible, consider making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to eligible employees;
  14. Treating vaccinated workers the same as those who are not vaccinated.

On the stakeholder call, agency representatives made clear that this guidance presents no new health or safety standards.  However,  the guidance itself identifies several health and safety standards that can be used to address COVID-19:

Please contact your Husch Blackwell safety and health representative with any questions about this new guidance.